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The Women’s Initiative in NAPFA’s History

By Susan Weiner

This article is one in a series of articles on initiatives that have helped engage members more deeply in NAPFA. This month, we look at the Women’s Initiative. The Women’s Initiative’s charter says its purpose is “to attract, support, educate, and develop women as leaders within the financial advisory profession and to raise the awareness of the need for more female advisors. We work toward this mission by building a community of women advisors, sponsoring sessions at NAPFA events, attracting media attention through articles and financial publications, and providing networking, advocacy, and mentorship opportunities to women.”

The NAPFA Advisor interviewed founder Peggy Cabaniss, NAPFA’s chair, 2005–2006, and her successor, Cheryl Costa, via email. This article also draws on a 2017 NAPFA Advisor Q&A with Cabaniss.

Learn about the Women’s Initiative’s current activities on its NAPFA webpage and in its Facebook group.

Why and when was your group founded?

Cabaniss: After I finished my service on NAPFA’s national board, I knew I wanted to devote my energy to something else.

We had been talking for a long time about the need for more women in the profession—a topic dear to my heart because of my original interest in women’s issues going back to the ’70s, with the passage of Title IX. The profession then was made up of maybe 23% women. And that percentage was not growing. So in 2006, I asked if we could start a women’s initiative group.

NAPFA has been an amazing organization in terms of always being open to new ideas. Nobody gave me trouble. They said, “Oh, sure, Peggy. The truth is we don’t have enough women, and if you’re interested in it, fine.” So, we started the Women’s Initiative and began to put on workshops for women at NAPFA’s conferences.

I stepped back around 2010 because I was really busy working on my succession plan and getting that in place. The Women’s Initiative carried on with new people. But then, after I retired in 2014, I again thought, “What am I going to do with my time? And what am I interested in?” I found my way back to the Women’s Initiative. And then Cheryl Costa stepped down as chair of the Women’s Initiative, and I became chair for two years.

Costa: Peggy was and still is an icon in the Fee-Only world, and she did all the heavy lifting getting the Women’s Initiative up and running. After she got things off to such a great start, I stepped in as chair of the Women’s Initiative and worked with Lisette Smith for a few years. It was such a wonderful experience. I had the opportunity to work with so many talented women.

I attended an engineering college where women were only 15% of the students, and later I worked at a company where the technical staff was nearly all men, so I was used to being in the minority. It’s great to find a community where you can talk with others who are navigating the same issues that you are.

What’s the group’s accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Costa: In the early stages of the organization, our events were women-only. Several men tried to “crash” one or two of those early events, and eventually, most of our events were open to both women and men, but I think we were able to create an atmosphere where women felt comfortable talking about their experiences in our industry—the high points and the low points. 

We ran a few panels where the speakers were at the early stage of their careers, the middle stage, and the later stage. Each spoke about what kept them up at night and how they might proceed to the next level in their personal and professional lives. Everyone in the audience for those sessions could identify with at least one of the panelists, and I know that many mentor and mentee arrangements were established as a result, and many of us also found life-long friendships. 

Cabaniss: I’m proud of the original group of women advisors who recognized the need for more women in our profession and who advocated for workshops, support groups, networking, and mentoring of women in NAPFA. And I’m grateful and so proud of the younger women who have stepped up to continue the work of the Women’s Initiative and who have added new features to the program, such as scholarships.

How has NAPFA supported your group?

Cabaniss: The good news is that NAPFA has always been 100% supportive of the efforts of the Women’s Initiative, and the group has continued to grow and flourish over the years. 

Costa: NAPFA was open to supporting the Women’s Initiative right from the get-go. We were able to get time at conferences for our events and really anything else that we needed. Ellen Turf was the president of NAPFA then, and she was extremely supportive.

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA accomplish next?

Cabaniss: We are still chipping away at the same old problem we had almost two decades ago: small-scale representation of women in the financial planning and investment advisory professions! I think our answer is to keep getting out the message that:

  1. Women, in general, need support and encouragement in securing financial independence and financial security.
  2. Women make outstanding advisors in the fields of financial planning and investment advisory services because they have a unique understanding of the needs and challenges women face.
  3. The NAPFA’s Women’s Initiative is here to help educate and support women as advisors as well as help men understand the unique issues faced by women.

Costa: Honestly, I think NAPFA’s self-formed MIX groups are where it’s at. Over the two decades that I have been a NAPFA member, I have participated in four of these groups, and the people I have met have been outstanding. I would encourage everyone to consider joining such a group—especially the women of NAPFA.

I am excited to see where the Women’s Initiative goes in the future. I’m sure it will be amazing!

Susan Weiner, CFA, is the editor of the NAPFA AdvisorSend her your ideas for articles and authors for the magazine.